While it is not the burning times, we still live in a world where being Pagan (and the like) is met with negativity, misunderstanding and even hostility. In severe instances Pagans have been met with violence.
If you’re out of the broom closet or otherwise open about your Pagan practices, you have a great opportunity and responsibility to show, by example, that our community is not made up of evil doers and devil worshipers. How do we do this?
It all starts with compassion. Have compassion for all of Spirit’s creatures including our brothers and sisters and ourselves. It’s easy to have compassion for “nice” people. It is more challenging to have compassion for ignorant, hate spreading people, but that is exactly what we need to do. You never know what’s going on in other people’s lives or what circumstances made people the way they are. Hate and prejudice and the like are taught. Someone, somewhere in these people’s lives taught them how to be this way. Sometimes they learned to be this way because someone was violent with them or violent towards others in front of them when they were little. Maybe they were abused and are angry at the whole world for what they’ve suffered. Sometimes it is the religion of their youth that taught them to persecute anyone with different beliefs. Having compassion doesn’t mean you are accepting their behaviour, it only means that you acknowledge and try to understand their problems. It simply means that despite their issues, they are still human beings. In no way am I saying that if someone threatens you, abuses you or is violent towards you that you shouldn’t call the police. Absolutely call the police!
People fall of the path of positivity for many reasons. The loss of a parent or child, violence, rape, murder of a friend or family member or being programmed to hate from childhood. It is up to these people to take responsibility and change their lives to get back on track and unfortunately some people never do; but we can help them along the way. We should never reflect the hate and anger back at them, but have compassion and remember that they are hurting.
As Pagans, many of us feel the responsibility to help others even if they hate us. If you fall into this category, yay! You are able to work within your general community to help others. It doesn’t mean you have to help them in a spiritual way. You can volunteer at a shelter, raise money for stopping domestic violence, volunteer at soup kitchens etc. We know like attracts like so bringing some kindness into the lives of others who may have never known kindness can change a life. Hopefully it will inspire them to show kindness toward others. It doesn’t always work. However, while doing this type of work you are sharing your kindness with the other volunteers. You are working side by side with people from all walks of life. Showing that you have kindness, compassion and generosity is a great first impression. When others who have seen you demonstrate this, they tend to have a better reaction when you tell them you’re Pagan. Showing compassion to others helps others show compassion to you.
Another way to help others form positive opinions about Pagans, is to be a good neighbour. Help out your neighbours if they are in need (snow shoveling comes to mind). Be friendly. Talk to your neighbours, take an interest in their lives and show them you are a good person. These are subtle things, but they build up new images of what a Pagan person is really like. We don’t need to be “in your face” aggressive with sharing our beliefs with others. But after awhile of getting to know your neighbours you may casually bring up the fact that your are Pagan. You never know when you may have to do this. What if you want to do outdoor ritual and your neighbour can see you. You may want to explain things to them so they don’t freak out. At this point your neighbour may be thinking, “well it can’t be that bad, s/he’s a terrific person!”
I want to share a story about compassion and not reacting in kind to others hate. Unfortunately I read this story long ago and cannot remember the source or where this took place.
During an annual gay pride event some people of Catholic faith came to protest. There was much verbal abuse and some violence as well. The LGBTQ community did not send protesters of their own and did not return the abuse or engage in the violence. They did step aside and let the police do their jobs. They continued with all the celebrations they normally would had there been no interference.
The next year, some of those very same protesters came out with their big signs. However, something had changed. Amidst all the hate some of the signs said “I’m sorry” “I was wrong”. By not reacting to the hate last year, some love spread out into the world and helped changed a life. While there are many reasons people change their beliefs I believe it is the spark of love that creates a new path. That subtle change allowed some of these people to open their hearts and learn compassion themselves which they gave back to the people who inspired it in the first place. Yes it is up to each person to walk this new path, but bringing that spark to as many people as possible means more and more people will take that first step.
As Pagans, it is important to show the world that we are good people who are doing all we can to make a positive difference in the lives of others so that when they hear about a person being Pagan they will have a different perspective that is based on their own experiences. That is a very powerful thing. We also know that sending peace and love and light out into the world encourages more of the same.
Walk your talk. This is so important. If you explain that you follow an earth based path to someone and then they see you litter, you have reinforced any negative beliefs people may have. Walk your talk!
If one person has a bad experience, they will tell ten people. If ten people have a positive experience they will only tell one person. So do as many positive things as you possibly can to spread love and joy.